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Cultural Leaders of India 




Kamala Ratnam 
R. Rangachari 




1st Edition : May 1980 (Jayaistha 1903) 
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Kamala Ratnam 1 


R. Rangachari 33 


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- Kamala Ratnam 

Valmiki is remembered as the author of the Ramayana, a book 
which has influenced a great number of people over a very long period 
of time. Translating a popular Sanskrit verse in praise of Valmiki, T.H. 
Griffith wrote, 

Praise to Valmiki, bird of charming song. 

Who mounts on Poetry’s sublimest spray, 

and sweetly sings with accents clear and strong Rama aye 

Rama, in his deathless lay.* 


Centuries after it was written, the Ramayana is still the most 
popular and largest selling book in India, including its various 
versions in all the modem India languages. Yet very little is known 
about sage Valmiki himself. Ancient sources reveal three persons 
named Valmiki. According to the Taittiriya Pratisakhya there was a 
grammarian Vlmiki whose aphorism (sutras) are quoted by 
Hemachandra of the eleventh century A.D. The Mahabharata mentions 
a Suparna Valmiki in the Udyoga Parvan. He is said , to be a 
descendant of Gamda and a devotee of Vishnu. None of these two is 
the poet Valmiki who wrote the great epic. The author of the 
Ramayana was a devotee of Siva. 

The Drona Parvan of the Mahabharata mentions a Bhargava 
Valmiki. This third Valmiki was a Brahmana bom in the Bhargava 
gotra or family and he, in all probability, could be identified with our 
poet Valmiki. The opening verse of the Ramayana mentions Valmiki 
by name, without telling us anything more about him. However in the 
Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana, Valmiki gives some more information 


STTW ^l^dlJfll^r ^ «Ue41R><*>ll^dH I I 


Valmiki and V^asa 

about himself. “I am the tenth son of Prachetas,” he says addressing 
Rama, “You are afraid of people’s calunmy. Sita has come here with 
me along with her two sons, and I am going to give you proof of her 
innocence.” Now Prachetas is another name for Varuna. According to 
Satapatha Brahmana Varuna married Charashni-Hila, who bore him 
two sons Bhrigu and Valmiki. This is confirmed by the Vishnu, 
Matsya and Bhagavata puranas. 

The name Valmiki signifies an anthill. Chyavana, a descendant of 
Bhrigu is also associated with this name. It is said that once his Tapas 
was so prolonged that his whole body was covered with white-ants. 
They had built their nest all around his body. Only his two eyes shone 
out of the mud-heaps. It is possible that this story of the anthill, later 
in course of time became associated with Valmiki as well and the 
name stuck to him. A much later Bengali version of the Ramayana 
written by Krittivasa claims Valmiki to be the son of Chyavana. The 
Ramayana mentions Bhargava Chyavana by name twice, without in 
any way relating him to Valmiki. Very much later in the beginning of 
the Christian era, Asvaghosha the author of Buddhacharitam, declared 
that ‘a man so humble as to be bom out of an anthill was able to 
compose the Ramayana, when earlier sages like Chyavana had failed 
in the attempt.’^ 

There is a popular legend connected with Valmiki, prevalent 
almost everywhere in India. This legend identifies Valmiki with a 
certain robber, who is able to get rid of his sins and achieve distinction 
later on as a poet. The earlierst reference to Valmiki as a robber is 
found in the Skanda Parana, which being comparatively modem (800 
A.D.), according to many scholars, is not a very reliable source of 
information about our poet. There are at least four versions of the 
robber-story. It appears that the author of the Adhyatma Ramayana 
(Circa 1400 A.D.) was acquainted with all of them. The following 
summary is based on the Adhyatma Ramayana. In the course of a 
conversion with Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, Valmiki himself explains 
to them the significance of repeating Rama’s name (Ramanama). T am 

2 iRTSf iRPt 


- The Buddhacharita-l-48 



bom of Brahmana parents’, he says, ‘having been brought up by 
Kirata foster-parents, I was led into behaving like a Sudra. I took a 
Sudra woman to be my wife and many children were bom to me by 
her. In those days I used to roam in the forest, armed with my bow and 
arrow in search of game. One day I met the seven sages (Saptarshi) 
in the forest. I wanted to rob them of their belongings, and I caught 
hold of them. The sages then asked me, ‘Young man! are your wife 
and children partners with you in this crime ?’ I said, ‘I did not know.’ 
The sages then told me to go back home and put this question to my 
family-members. When I reached home, I first asked my wife would 
she share part of the consequences of my crime? She said, ‘No, you 
are solely responsible for your actions!’ Then I put the same question 
to my children and they gave the same reply. No one was prepared to 
share my guilt, though all enjoyed the fruits thereof! This opened my 
eyes and I was filled with remorse. I went back to the Saptarshis and 
told them what my children and my wife had said. The Saptarshis then 
took me in their refuge. They gave me the reverse syllables of the 
name RAMA to repeat endlessly. I went on repeating ‘MARA— 
MARA—MARA’, until I lost all consciousness. The words had turned 
out to be ‘RAMA—RAMA—^RAMA’ and my body had become an 
antheap! Ages passed before the seven sages came that way again. 
They dug me out of the antheap, saying, ‘you have come out of the 
antheap (VALMIKA), hence you are bom again as VALMIKI. Go 
now, and do good to the world. Go and write the RamayanaV 

Popular tradition, including Tulasidasa, the author of the 
Ramacharitamanasa, associates Valmiki with a certain Svapacha, a 
man of very low caste. He was able to achieve higher status on 
account of his devotion to Siva. In the Mahabharata it is said that 
once during a conversation Valmiki told Yudhishthira, ‘I was called a 
Brahamana-killer (Brahamaghna) by some hot-tempered sages during 
a discussion. That sin clung to me and I sought the protection of the 
all powerful Siva, in order to get rid of it.^ The Harijans of north India 
claim descent from Valmiki on the basis of this tradition. As in other 

^ ’RTPrf^ii 

v5<rcl '*TRtr I 

- Mahabharata XIII-18, 8, 9, 10 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

cases, this story about Valmiki also seems to be an invention. Such 
fanciful material is usually appended to the personalities of great 
writers and poets in order to introduce an element of wonder in their 
achievements. A similar tradition says that Kalidasa was a blockhead 
who was cutting the same branch of the tree on which he sat. After 
marriage when his wife rebuked him, he left home in search of 
knowledge and became the great poet that he was. However there is 
no truth in this story. It is interesting to note that Tulasidasa, a 
comparatively modem poet and author of the Hindi Ramayana is said 
to have achieved devotion to Rama after being rebuked by his wife. 

There is almost no date to go by in order to determine, even 
approximately, the time when the Ramayana was written. Indian 
tradition believes Valmiki to be a contemporary of Rama and an eye¬ 
witness to at least some of the important events of the story. The 
Uttara Kanda mentions Valmiki to have been a close friend and 
associate of Dasaratha. When Lakshmana goes to perform the difficult 
and cmel duty of abandoning Sita in the forest who is with child, he 
tells her, ‘Do not grieve, O Lady of auspicious signs.’ Nearby lies the 
Asrama of Valmiki, a very close and dear friend of austerities and 
remembering Rama."^ The verse in question uses four adjectives for 
Valmiki, Sakha (friend), Ishtah (dear), Paramakah (very close) and 
Viprah (an educated and distinguished Brahmana). This along with the 
evidence we have before us in the Ramayana of his great knowledge 
and emdition, should put an end to the canard that Valmiki was bom 
a svapacha. Knowing Valmiki to be his father’s friend and a well- 
wisher of the family, Lakshmana could leave Sita under his protection 
with some ease of conscience. 

The exiled Sita lived in Valmiki’s Asrama for a long time. There 
she gave birth to her two sons Lava and Kusa who were brought up 
and educated by Valmiki. Later when he wrote the Ramayana in verse, 
he taught it to the two boys who went and sang it in the court of 
Rama. Valmiki comes once again to Ayodhya at the end of the 
Aswamedha sacrifice and vouchsafes Sita’s purity asking Rama to take 
her back. 

- Ramayana, VII-25, 16 



Following the western tradition, which takes a very short-term 
view of history, Weber and Schlegel have placed the Ramayana in the 
iph, century B.C., while Jacobi considers 500 B.C. as the more 
probable date. Gorresio, the first western scholar who published the 
complete text of the Ramayana, places the date tentatively at 1300 
B.C., Tod 1100 B.C., Bendy 1100 B.C., while William Jones stretches 
it as far back as 2029 B.C. The Indian view regards the Ramayana as 
much older. It is earlier than Buddhism and older than the Mahabharata. 
The Mahabharata, the Jains and the Buddhists all three are well- 
acquainted with the Ramayana story and mention it in detail. The 
Ramayana is definitely posterior to the Vedic age as is made amply 
clear by linguistic and other internal evidence. Social, moral and 
ritualistic ideals of the Vedas and Vedangas are amply present in the 
Ramayana. The entire cultural and religious atmosphere of the 
Ramayana seems to follow closely on the heels of the Vedic period. 
Indian tradition says that Vishnu descended on earth as Rama in the 
Treta Yuga (Circa 867,102 B.C.). And Valmiki being his contemporary 
must of necessity be assigned to the same age. However such vast 
distances of time are beyond man’s knowledge. There is a limit 
beyond which time passes into timelessness. For the Hindus, in any 
case, the date of the Ramayana is not so important as the lofty ethical 
and moral ideals shown here in practice and the perfection and beauty 
of the narrative which gives the first clear and complete picture of 
Aryan culture and civilization, and of India of those times. The 
composition of the Ramayana marks a distinct stage in the development 
of Sanskrit language and poetry. Actually the denomination 
‘SANSKRIT’ is used for the first time in the Ramayana.^ ‘Sanskrit’ 
means Samskrita, refined or cultured. The language of the earlier 
Vedic literature, in fact had no name. It was just VAK, speech. So 
much so that some European scholars were lead to say, “The ancient 
Indian language, like the literature composed in it, falls into the two 
main divisions of Vedic and Saskrit.”^ Vedic literature deals with 
metaphysical and religious ideas. Its aim is to know and describe the 

5 Later the language of India came to be called ‘Sanskrit’-a term not found in the 
older grammarians, but occurring in the earliest epic, the Ramayana”. 

— A.A. Macdonell, A History of Sanskrit Literature, Page 22 
— Ibid Page 20. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

Absolute. It speaks of the splendour and grandeur of the universe and 
tries to understand its nature, the power behind it and how through 
Yajna, that power can be harnessed for the benefit of mankind. On the 
other hand classical Sanskrit literature beginning with the Ramayana 
is chiefly secular. It deals with man in his various circumstances, 
moods and aspects. Man at home, Man in relation to society, and a 
myriad other ways in which life touches Man. The Ramayana excels 
in the study of the inner man, the thoughts and feelings which become 
the motives of his actions which in turn are the causes of the 
destruction or welfare of society. 

The Ramayana says that Valmiki was a contemporary of Sri 
Rama, and the entire drama of the story was enacted before his eyes. 
However, there is evidence to show that the Rama-story existed even 
earlier. C. Rajagopalachari, one of the foremost interpreters of the 
Ramayana, has said, Tt would appear that the story of Rama had been 
in existence long before Valmiki wrote his epic and gave form to a 
story that had been handed down from generation to generation”.^ The 
Vedas mention by name many of the characters of the Ramayana 
though much information about them is mentioned once in the 
Rigveda and four times in the Atharva Veda. In one of the hymns of 
the Rigveda Dasaratha, father of Sri Rama is praised for his 
munificence. The Rigveda also mentions a king named Rama, as do 
certain other Upanishads and Brahmanas. It appears that Dasaratha 
and Rama were popular names in the earlier Vedic period. Rama 
meant any attractive son and Rama his beloved wife. Hence it 
would seem that any similarity between these Vedic names and the 
characters of the Ramayana is probably coincidental. The conclusion 
that these are in any way related to the Dasaratha and Rama of the 
Ramayana would be arbitrary and farfetched. Ancient records of 
central Asia mention a king of the Mittani people, named Dasaratha 
who ruled cirea 1400 B.C. 

6 The following verse from the Ramayana might be construed to give some 
credence to the idea that the Ramayana story existed in Akhyana or Folk-form, 

- Ramayana 1-5, 3 



Vedic literature mentions Sita also, but she is not in any way 
related to Rama or Dasaratha. The Sita of the Vedas is a part of the 
agricultural phenomenon (Sita, literally furrow)^. In certain places she 
is remembered as the daughter of the Sun. But mostly she is continued 
upto the times of the Puranas. The Harivamsa mentions Sita as the 
favourite deity of the farmers. ‘Karshakanam cha SitetV, for the 
farmers you are like their goddess Sita. 

King Janaka, the foster-father of Sita in the Ramayana, is 
mentioned several times in the Satapatha Brahmana and 
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Here he is a sage and philosopher and in 
no way connected with Sita, though he is a distant predecessor of the 
other Janaka who was Sita’s father. According to one opinion the two 
are separated by eighteen generations. Thus although these names 
occur in the earlier vedic and upanishadic sources, there is no reason 
to believe that the Rama-story as related by Valmiki was known to the 
Vedas. A careful reading of Valmiki’s Ramayana leaves a strong 
impression that the author identifies himself completely wiht the 
incidents related to him. He was in no doubt about their veracity. Yet 
another Indian view states, “Valmiki’s Ramayanas is closest to Rama’s 
reign in point of time. This is undisputed. In composing his chronicle, 
the poet had access to the popular traditions, myths, legends and 
sayings handed down from the age of Rama which invest his work 
with a historical significance denied to others who worked on the 
same theme.” Consequently we may also go by the assumption that 
Valmiki was as eyewitness to the drama which he immortahzes in his 
inimitable verse. 

Regarding the antiquity of the Ramayana, one more opinion may 
by quoted, that of T.H. Griffith, who in his study of the Ramayana, 
states, “Reading the Ramayana of Valmiki, one feels the presence of 
an antique air pervading the whole. In such poems as the Iliad and the 
Ramayana, we instinctively feel that they belong to the earlier world : 

we enter them as we enter Pompeii — the colours may stiU seem fresh 

nr 11 

- Rigvela, IV-59, 6, 7 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

and no mark of decay remind us of their age but we feel that...a gulf 
of ages lies between us and our objects”. The German professor Jacobi 
says, “Abundance of Arsha (archaic) forms indicate its high antiquity. 
After the rise of the grammarians no writer could have taken such 
liberties with the language”. Jacobi further goes on to say “Valmiki is 
very near to Vedic gods like Indra etc. He quotes them constantly. 
Indra is the most prominent figure in Vedic mythology.” 

The story of the Ramayana opens with a verse addressed by 
Valmiki to Narada, asking him to mention by name someone who ib 
the present age is equipped with the qualities of Tapas (hard work) and 
svadhaya (deep meditation), who is possessed of character and is 
devoted to universal welfare. In reply Narada gives the name of 
Rama, bom in the Ikshvaku family and well-known for his great 

Thus Valmiki received from Narada the frame-work of the Rama- 
story. The Second chapter of the first part, acquaints us with a 
momentous incident in Valmiki’s life. It is the incident which gave 
him the title of Adikavi (First Poet). The incident has been related by 
the poet himself as detailed below. 

Soon after taking leave of Narada, the poet decided to take a walk 
on the banks of the river Tamasa, which was far removed from the 
river Ganga, on the banks of which his Asrama was situated. Reaching 
the Tamasa river, the poet found its waters very cool and agreeable. 
Addressing his sishya (disciple) Bharadwaja, he said, “these are clear 
waters like the heart of a good man. So you put down your vessel and 
give me my bark-garments. I shall bathe here”. Valmiki took the 
change of clothes from the hands of the disciple and began walking 
freely in that rich forest. It was then that he heard the sweet cooings 
of a pair of krauncha birds who were sporting very near him. As he 
was enjoying this happy sight, one of the pair, the male-bird was shot 
by an evil minded cmel hunter. Seeing the male bird’s body soaked in 
blood, and writhing on the ground, his wife, the female bird let out a 
piteous cry. The sage saw that the female had been deprived of the 

YUfl 'TFT I 

PlildlcHI qfcIHI't I I 

- Ramayana 1-1, 8 



company of her mate who was full of love and with his scarlet crest 
shining, was ready for consummation. Seeing the male-bird thus 
disabled by the hunter, the heart of the righteous Rishi was filled with 
compassion. Then knowing that the female had been grievously 
wronged, he uttered these words, in the hearing of the weeping bird. 
These words have thus been translated by Griffith, 

No fame be thine for endless time. 

Because, base outcaste, of thy crime. 

Whose cruel hand was fain to slay 
One of this gentle pair at play. 

Now this was a great event in the literary world. Valmiki realized 
that he had passed through a momentous experience, and that 
experience had been translated into words. So he said to his disciple, 
“That which proceeded from me under the stress of deep sorrow, is the 
sloka (poetry) and nothing else”. And immediately he was able to 
define the characteristics of classical poetry. It should be divided in 
equal measures or feet, each foot should have the same number of 
syllables and it should be capable of being set to musical strings. Thus 
was bom the sloka-metre- (Anushtubha), with four equal feet, each of 
eight syllables. Most of the Ramayana and later epics and Kavyas like 
the Mahabharata have been written in this metre. The sloka is the 
most convenient metre for long narratives and lends itself easily to 
memorization. An added virtue is its versatility and ability to express 
all thoughts and emotions and its adaptability to different musical 
scores. Eventually Valmiki taught his Ramayana to Lava and Kusa, 
the children of Sita, who sang it in the presence of King Rama and his 
assembly of learned people in Ayodhya. The poetry of the Ramayana 
had reached such perfection and it was so moving that it was 
appreciated by one and all, each quality being liked by its connoisseur. 
Kalidasa, who followed his mentor Valmiki many many centuries later 
recorded this in his Raghuvamsa thus, “Having heard that song, with 
fixed mind, the faces of the assembly were wet with tears and the 

10 Tg WFPT: I 

- Ramayana 1-2, 15 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

atmosphere was that of a fresh, cool and quiet spot in the forest where 
even the wind had stopped moving in order to listen,”^* 

Valmiki’s Ramayana consists of 24,000 slokas, divided into 
seven kandas (parts) and 500 chapters, the main story being enriched 
by hundreds of side-episodes and references. Some scholars differ as 
to the authenticity of the whole of the Ramayana. They think that the 
entire Balakanda and Uttarakanda, dealing with the early and later 
periods of Rama’s life are not the original work of Valmiki. These 
were subsequently appended by enthusiastic admirers of the poet. This 
question, however, need not detain us here.^^ For us the whole of the 
Ramayana is historically authentic and a faithful record of the culture 
and civilization, political and social life, philosophy and religion, 
norms and manners of our ancient ancestors. The rich picture, which 
the Ramayana presents of the life and times of the ancient Indian 
people, their triumphs and travails, their strength and weakness is not 
to be found anywhere else. It is as real and true as a picture taken by 
movie camera with voice added. 

Originally the Ramayana was handed down by word of mouth, 
each generation of rhapsodists (beginning from Lava and Kusa) or 
singers teaching it to the next. Later it was written down. Thus the text 
of the Ramayana is available to us today in three recensions. These are 
the Bombay (Mumbai) or the southern, the Bengal and the north-west 
Indian recensions. The southern text is the oldest, therefore, nearest to 
the original. The Oriental Institute of Baroda has published a critical 
edition of the Ramayana, based on all available texts. 

I shall now try to summarise the Ramayana story which is all but 
too familiar to every Indian, man, woman or child. I shall relate briefly 
the happiness and joy, the tears and toil of our national heroes whose 
character and personality have left an indelible mark on our people. 


- Raghuvamsa, XIV-66 

12 Kalisasa, whose date is the middle of the First Century B.C., shows unmistakable 
signs of having read the whole of Ramayana, including the Bala and 

Cf: Raghuvamsa, XIV-66 



and whose faces are nearer and more familiar and dear to them than 
the faces of their nearest kith and kin. 

This is the story of Sri Rama bom in the family of Ikshvaku who 
belonged to the great line of King Sagara, whose sixty thousand sons 
had once dug up the sea. In the Janapada (small republic) of Kosala, 
on the banks of the river Sarayu, there is the city of Ayodhya, known 
to all. In that glittering and prosperous city lived King Dasaratha. 
Although everyone in that city was learned and well versed in the 
sastras and did his duty faithfully, Dasaratha who yearned for a son, 
was childless. Then one fine day, when spring was in full bloom, the 
king decided to perform a Yajna. Vasistha ordered Sumantra. “Invite 
everybody from everywhere, Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Sudras. Let 
them be honoured equally.” After the bigger sacrifice had been 
performed, a smaller ceremony was arranged with the motive of 
begetting a son. Then a brilliant personality arose out of the sacrificial 
fire and handed over to Dasaratha some Payasam (milk-pudding) in a 
small gold vessel carved with silver lines together with necessary 
instmctions. The king gave half of the heavenly dish to his senior wife 
Kausalaya, and from the remaining half gave an equal share to the two 
younger wives. 

In course of time four sons were bom, one each to Kausalya and 
Kaikeyi and a set of twins to Sumitra. Rama was eldest, and being the 
most brilliant was his father’s favourite. The younger brother 
Lakshmana, from childhood was devoted to Rama. He was like 
“Rama’s very life existing outside his body.” All four brothers 
received proper education and were versed in the art of war. Soon sage 
Vishwamitra happens to visit the court of Ayodhya. He wishes to take 
away Rama to eliminate the Rakshasas who are disturbing the yajna 
near his Asrama. Dasaratha demurs, but on advice of Vasishtha agrees 
to send Rama together with Lakshmana. Vasishtha argued, “Viswamitra 
is capable of dealing with the demons himself. It is in the interest of 
your son that you should send him with him.” Those words of Rishi 
Vasishtha came tme. On his way to his Asrama Viswamitra taught 
Rama the use of no less than fifty five new weapons besides giving 
him several other most potent and rare arms like the Brahmastra, 
Vishnu-chakra and Dharmapasa. These along with the swords, bows 
and arrows, he already possessed, Rama became almost invincible. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

This trip also provided valuable experience to the two young princes 
for their future long sojourn in the forest. During this time Rama was 
able to eliminate Maricha and kill Subahu and Tataka. Suiting the 
occasion, Viswamitra gave some sound advice to Rama, “Do not 
hesitate, thinking Tataka to be a woman and therefore not to be killed. 
A king has to rise above the sense of kindness and cruelty; he may 
even have to resort to sinful action in order to protect the interests of 
his people,” These words heard in early youth, have been at the back 
of Rama’s mind when he finally exiled Sita after becoming king of 

Vishwamitra takes Sri Rama and Lakshmana to the neighbouring 
Mithila where king Janaka is holding a Svyamvara for his daughter 
Sita. Rama breaks Siva’s bow and receives the hand of Sita in return. 
King Dasaratha arrives from Ayodhya and the remaining three 
brothers are married to Sita’s younger sisters. All return happily to 
Ayodhya where Rama lives in peaceful contentment with his wife Sita 
who is inseparable from him like his very shadow.The Balakanda 
ends here. 

The Ayodhyakanda begins with the journey of Bharata and 
Satrughana, Rama’s younger brothers, to the house of their uncle, the 
king of Kekaya. It is then that Dasaratha decides to crown Rama heir- 
apparent. The news is carried to Kaikeyi, Bharata's mother, by her 
maid Manthara, who senses a plot. At last Kaikeyi is won over by the 
intriguing servant and she asks Dasaratha for the two boons which he 
had promised her earlier. As a result Rama is exiled for fourteen years 
and Bharata is to be crowned in his place. Rama accompanied by Sita 
and Lakshmana, goes to the forest; the king dies in grief. The capital 
is plunged in deep sorrow and mourming. Bharata returns. He rebukes 
his mother for her greedy unconstitutional deeds and leaves inunediately 
for Chitrakuta to bring Sri Rama back. Almost the whole of Ayodhya, 
along with his three mothers follows him into the jungle. 

13 Janaka, father of Sita, had made a special mention of this fact at the time of the 
marriage, cf. 

^ffhrr ^ 'ffgtiPlufi ^1 

Mlclddl HdmHIl 

- Rayamana, 1-73, 27, 28 



This meeting of Bharata with his brother in the forest is one of 
the highlights of the poem. It brings out the character of Bharata as a 
noble and dutiful son of the Ikshvaku family, a most disciplined, 
loving and devoted younger brother, neither wishing for nor accepting 
any harm to be done to Rama, who is the rightful heir to the throne. 
Yet all the entreaties of Bharata are in vain. Rama refuses to lay down 
the vow imposed on him by his father. Bharata has to return to 
Ayodhya along with his entourage but not before he has secured from 
Rama his sandals which will be the real ruler and Bharata a humble 
caretaker, just a trustee. In Ayodhya, Bharata duly installed the sandals 
as king, and during bark-garments resided outside the city, protecting 
the property of his brother. After the departure of Bharata, Rama went 
to visit the sage Atri, where his wife Anasuya appreciates Sita’s 
devotion to Rama and gives a discourse on the duties of a good wife. 

The Aranyakanda opens with Rama’s entry into the Dandaka 
forest. The sages living here are the objects of the fury of the 
Rakshasas. Rama is able to kill Viradha and meet famous sages like 
Sutikshna and Agastya. Reaching Panchavati, the brothers make 
friends with Jatayu and Lakshmana decides to build a hut of leaves for 
his brother and sister-in-law. Not much time has passed for the trio to 
enjoy the calm and beauty of this place, when their pace is disturbed 
by the entry of Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister who rules the Southern 
Region. Surpanakha has lost her husband; she becomes enamoured of 
Rama and Lakshmana. She wishes that one of them should marry her. 
Her persistence annoys Lakshmana who disfigures her nose and ears. 
Thus enraged Surpanakha goes to her brother Ravana, and asks him to 
punish Rama suitably. Ravana sends his kinsman Maricha in the guise 
of a golden deer. Sita is attracted by it and sends Rama after it. 
Hearing the false cry of the animal, Lakshmana is also despatched to 
help Rama. Ravana appears. He finds Sita alone. He abducts her. 

When Rama returns to the hut and finds Sita gone, he gives way 
to uncontrollable grief. Lakshmana consoles him. The two brothers 
wander in the forest until they meet Jatayu who has been mortally 
wounded in trying to save Sita from the clutches of Ravana. Rama 
performs the last rites for his friend Jatayu, who dies after telling him 
that Sita has been abducted by Ravana. During their onward journey, 
Rama meets Kabandha and kills him. Before dying the demon tells 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

him to go and meet Sugriva the leader of the Vanaras, who lives in 
Kishkindha. On their way to the Vanara kingdom the two brothers 
meet Sabari, who feeds Rama on sweet berries after collecting them 
and carefully tasting them. The meeting with Sri Rama is her life’s 
purpose for this simple jungle woman. After the meeting she puts an 
end to her life, but before doing so, she guides Rama to the shores of 
the Pampa lake. 

The beginning of Kishkindhakanda finds Rama still in the grip of 
sorrow. The Kanda opens with a long and detailed description of lake 
Pampa, whose natural beauty and loveliness enhances Rama’s misery 
in the absence of Sita. Lakshmana as always comes to Rama’s rescue 
and consoles him. Now lake Pampa happened to be within the bounds 
of Sugriva’s kingdom. He notices two strangers, Rama and Lakshmana, 
wandering in his territory. Suspecting them to be emissaries of Vali 
(Bali) his estranged brother, he dispatches Hanuman to find out who 
they are. Hanuman, the hero of the latter part of the epic, makes his 
entry now. Disguising himself as a Brahmana, he accosts them 
speaking in chaste Sanskrit. Both Rama and Lakshmana are impressed 
by the speech of Hanuman. They exchange details about each other. 
Sugriva has been aggrieved by his elder brother Vali (Bali), who has 
annexed his kingdom and appropriated his wife. Finding himself in the 
same plight as Rama he is only too willing to help him recover Sita. 
Rama agrees to kill Vali (Bali) and does so. At the time of death Rama 
tells Vali (Bali) that he has been killed because he practiced Adharma, 
by not protecting his younger brother’s interests and seducing his wife 
Ruma, who should have been like a daughter to him. According to 
Dharma he should have acted like Sugriva’s father. His wife and 
kingdom restored, Sugriva is reminded of his promise to Rama by 
Hanuman. He calls the assembly of his generals and ministers and 
messengers are sent to all the then known parts of the world. In this 
connection Valmiki mentions a number of continents, islands and 
farflung lands which because of their characteristics mentioned are 
being identified today as some of the present-day countries of the 
world. Hanuman is sent to the south. He reaches the edge of the ocean 
and makes preparations to cross it. 

The Sundarakand takes Hanuman into the heart of the Rakshasa 
city of Lanka. He has crossed the mighty ocean in one leap landing on 



the top of Trikuta hill. From here he gets a panoramic view of the 
whole city. He waits for night-fall in order to begin his investigations. 
During the night Hanuman made a complete survey of Lankapuri. He 
saw the magnificent gold-studded buildings of Ravana’s brothers and 
ministers, the beautiful palace fashioned with precious germs in which 
Ravana lived with his many wives, until he came to the small secluded 
Asokavana where Sita was kept prisoner. ‘Misery concentrated, a 
rising wave of sorrow’, Sita has given up hope of being saved from 
the clutches of her captor. Hanuman sees Sita in that condition and 
decides to create hope in her. He recites the name of Rama and praises 
his valour. He shows her Rama’s signet ring and receives a hair- 
ornament from her which he shall show to Rama as a proof of his visit 
to Lanka. Before leaving Lanka, Hanuman succeeds in destroying the 
garden-palaces of Ravana and killing some of his friends and relatives. 
Ravana captures Hanuman and orders his tail to be burnt. Hanuman 
with his burning tail sets fire to the city of Lanka. He returns to the 
mainland where Rama is waiting for him. Rama is over-joyed to learn 
that Sita is alive. He makes preparations to wage war against Ravana. 

The Yuddhakanda describes the great battle between Rama and 
Ravana. It is a fight between the just and the unjust, between what is 
good and what is evil. The poet is at the end of his skill in describing 
the great battle. He finds that there is nothing comparable with it in his 
knowledge or experience. And he finds himself saying : 

‘The sky is matched by the sky, ocean is equal to ocean. The 
battle between Rama and Ravana is like Rama and Ravana 
themselvesAnd yet the two adversaries are so evenly matched, that 
the battle was not easily won by Rama. Indra has to send down his 
chariot for Rama and at a crucial moment muni Agastya has to come 
and teach the Adityahridayam Stotra to Rama. This was to help him 
concentrate his mind on the Sun, the source of all power and energy. 

In this Kanda Sugriva and other Vanaras advice Rama to prepare 
for battle. Says Sugriva, ‘I do not see any cause for grief, now that we 
know the home and base of the enemy’. Vibhshana advises his brother 

14 WR: 'HUK'IMH: I 

- Ramayana, VI-110, 23, 24 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

to give back Sita and put an end to enmity, in order to avoid war. He 
is rebuked by Ravana as a Kuladrohi- enemy of the family. Vibhishana 
leaves his brother and joins Rama’s camp. At the end of the war he is 
crowed king of Lanka. Sita is brought back. After listening to some 
extremely harsh words from her husband, she proves her purity 
through a fire-ordeal. Everything ends happily, Sita comes out unhurt 
from the fire and Rama accepts her. The Pushpaka air-chariot is 
brought out, which carries everybody back to Ayodhya where amidst 
great jubilation, Rama is crowned king. 

The Uttarakanda is more or less in the form of an epilogue, 
where all the loose strings of the story are tied together and additional 
information about various characters is given. The first few chapters 
are devoted to the family history of Ravana and the source of his great 
strength. The story of Sri Rama himself is rounded off by describing 
the banishment of Sita, her stay in Valmiki’s Asrama where her twin 
sons are bom. The sage brings up and educates the two children and 
teaches them the Ramayana which they sing in their father’s court. 
Rama recognizes his children and sends for Valmiki. The sage comes 
to Ayodhya bringing Sita with him. He declares Sita to be blameless 
and advises Rama to take her back. Rama sees the august assembly of 
gods and Rishis who have come with Valmiki. He decides to take back 
Sita. Sita no doubt knew that though Sri Rama was willing, public 
opinion about her was still divided. 

‘Some spoke in favour of Rama, while others praised Sita’.*^ No 
one praised Sita with one voice. 

Sita, who was now for the first time dressed in bark garments,'^ 
spumed Rama’s offer and prayed to Mother Earth to give her a place 
in her bosom. The earth acceded, and Sita disappeared within the 
Earth in order to be reintegrated in the self-same furrow from which, 

15 i 

- Ramayana, VII-96, 14 

16 At the time of accompanying her husband in exile, Sita did not put on bark 
garments ‘Dasaratha had expressly said that according to the objection raised by 
his Guru Vasishtha, Sita shall not go to the forest dressed in bark-garments. “She 
shall accompany her husband in the foest resplendent in all her finery and 

- Ramayana, IT-83, 6 



once upon a time, she had risen in beauty. Rama too, after fulfilling 
his life-span entered the Sarayu river along with his entourage and 
went to heaven. 

Long long ago the Vedas had sung about the irresistible attraction 
of heaven and earth (Dyava-Prithivi) for each other. 

Every generation sees the eternal coming together of these two 
and then their inevitable and final separation. To each his own. Heaven 
to Heaven and Earth to Earth. So that they may once again be united 
and become parents of the world. 

The question may be asked whether Rama was human or divine. 
One of the very first slokas of the Ramayana mentions Rama to be 
like Vishnu.*^ Towards the end of the epic there is a verse which says,- 
‘Rama always delights, he is Vishnu himself.’^* The chapters describing 
the ‘PutreshtV Yajna in the Balakanda give a vivid description of 
Vishnu coming down on earth in the form of Rama. The gods are 
oppressed by the evil deeds of Ravana. They approach Vishnu and ask 
him to incarnate himself in four parts as the four sons of Dasaratha. 
Thus all four brothers and not Rama alone are incarnations of Vishnu. 
Western scholars have gone to great lengths to prove that Valmiki’s 
Rama was a human being, a mere mortal, he was not an Avatara 
(Incarnation) of Vishnu. This point may engage attention of those who 
regard God and man to be different. Hindu philosophy talks of 
Advaita, the divine spark resides in all of us. Valmiki’s Rama was a 
human being, like any one of us. With his character and deeds he rose 
to the stature of God; Valmiki’s purpose in telling this seems to be to 
describe the almost insurmountable stresses and strains which a man 
has to encounter on his path of duty. That even a God, if bom human, 
will succeed or fail like Rama did. He will wail or rejoice, a victim of 
circumstance. Trying his best not to waver from tmth or duty, he will 
be compelled sometimes to take recourse to wrong, as was the case 
with Rama when he killed Vali or Sambuka, or banished Sita. Valmiki 
tells us that we cannot be fair and just to all at the same moment. That 


- Ramayana, 1-1, 18 


WcT ^ 1% 'HHIclH: I 

- Ramayana, Vl-131, 112 


Ibid-I-15, 20, 30 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

to be human is to be incomplete and the purpose of leading the human 
life is to try to overcome this incompeletness. Man or God, these 
characteristics are found in Sri Rama in ample measure. In true Indian 
tradition Valmiki wrote his epic for the edification of man, so that we 
may learn to be better men and women. We may not say, Rama could 
do this becuase he was god. We must learn to say. If Rama could do 
this, we can also do it, because we are both human’. Valmiki shows 
us the way how we can bring Rama-Rajya on earth and in our country 
even today. 

Val mik i is master of the human mind. His profound knowledge of 
man enables him to paint vivid character portraits covering all sections 
of society. To study the Ramayana, is to know human nature and 
behaviour in all its forms. 

Lakshmana, Rama’s half-brother, is so devoted to him that he is 
referred to as Rama’s second body. He has no personal ambition, his 
sole aim is to serve his brother. Rama is devoted to Dharma which is 
an abstract idea. Lakshmana’s object of worship is Dharma in action, 
the life and actions of Sri Rama himself. In this he is helped by his 
mother Sumitra. At the point of departure for the forest she advises 
him ‘Consider Rama to be your father and Sita to be your mother. 
Think of the forest as the city of Ayodhya where you go with a happy 
heart.Inspite of his single minded devotion to Rama, Lakshmana 
had his own mind and he did not hesitate to express it. When the order 
of banishment was pronounced, Lakshmana flared up like live fire. He 
said to Rama, “Anyone, be it Bharata himself, will be killed by me if 
he intends to harm you. Suffering is meant for those who are soft. 
Encouraged by Kaikeyi, if he who calls himself our father turns into 
an enemy, then let him be killed, let him be killed. Never mind 
whether he is an elder or a guru if he deviates from duty he has to be 
punished.”^* His devotion to Rama is total when he utters these words 
to the departing Sumantra. “Go and tell my father that what he has 
done is wrong. It will surely invite trouble. Tell him I no longer see 
fatherhood in him. For me father, brother, master, friend everything is 

20 Ramayana, 11-40, 9 

21 Ramayana, 11-21, 11, 12, 13 



Raghava.”^^ The word ‘Raghava’ is to be noted; it signifies the best in 
the family of Raghu. 

Yet there are occasions when Lakshmana will not obey Rama. 
Rama tells him to stay back and look after his old parents and the 
people of Ayodhya in his absence. Lakshmana will have none of this. 
He has already declared before Kausalya, “Mother! my min d is fixed 
on my brother. This I swear by my bow. If Rama were to enter a forest 
of flaming fire then know that I have already thrown myself in it.”^^ 
Lakshmana is powerful, brilliant, kind hearted, faithful, hardworking, 
volatile and many things more. Yet with regard to women he is 
unimpressionable, like a hard straight rock. And this he is voluntarily 
and not through any physical infirmity. If Rama is the deep sea 
Lakshmana is the surging wave on the surface. For this reason he is 
dearer to Rama than life itself, dearer than Sita even. It was for his 
sake that Rama rejoiced when he was to be crowned heir-apparent, 
“Saumitri! Here are the joys of kingship, enjoy them to the fullest. I 
desire them only for you!”^"^ Seeing his beloved brother hit by 
Indrajit’s bolt Rama laments, “What use have I of Sita or of life, if 
today I see my brother lying in the battlefield lifeless? A woman like 
Sita may be found, if you go looking for her, but never a companion 
and a fighter and a brother like Lakshmana.”^ Lakshmana meant more 
to Rama, than anyone else in the world, there is no doubt about this. 
And Sita knew it very well. Talking with Hanuman, she admits that 
“Rama has always loved Lakshmana more than myself!” 

And what a cruel price Lakshmana has to pay for his devotion, 
when his brother asks him to abandon his pregnant wife in the woods. 
Having communicated the orders of his brother to her, and knowing 
that she is innocent, he has no other alternative but to leave her there 
and return. This is the most miserable moment in Sita’s life. She 
breaks down. She asks Lakshmana to look at her pregnant form. A 
doubt may be raised here as to why she did so. Did she have a faint 
hope that Lakshmana seeing her so near motherhood, might change 

22 Ibid 11-58, 31 

23 Ibid 11-21, 16, 17 

24 Ibid 11-4, 44 

25 Ibid, lV-49, 6 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

his mind and disobeying her husband’s command, take her back to the 
capital? And was Lakshmana aware of this and out of hopeless grief 
and loth to disobey his brother a second time^^, he did not raise his 
eyes? For his reply to Sita was, ‘What are you saying? I did not raise 
my eyes unto your visage before, only these feet were familiar to me. 
Today when you are alone, not accompanied by Rama, how can I lift 
my eyes to see your face!” This is severe punishment indeed for his 
single lapse in obeying Rama. Lakshmana wishes he could drop down 
dead there and then. He sheds bitter tears the only price he could pay 
for his all-enveloping love and devotion to Rama, who in this cruel act 
of his had moved several steps down from godhead. 

Rama’s character is somber and serene. He is Maryada- 
Purushottama, he who knows the limits, the best of men. This in a 
nut-shell is Rama’s character. He symbolizes the ideal which can and 
should be attempted to be reached by each one of us. Valmiki wanted 
Rama to be the moral ideal for men. The best and whole of India, 
Bharatavarsha, is contained in him. Unconsciously the poet identifies 
him with the physical features of our motherland, ‘Rama was deep like 
the deep, deep sea and firm like the snowy Himalaya.^^ This 
description covers the two extremeties of our Bharatavarsha. His 
strength lies in his unfailing sense of justice and fairplay.^^ Never 
losing his sense of balance, he is able to size up the situation from all 
sides and arrive at appropriate solutions without compromising 
Dharma. Rama’s philosophy of life is very clearly stated in his reply 
to Bharata, when the latter comes to take him back to Ayodhya. 
“Man’s life is continuously ebbing away like the flow of receding 
waters. Death is a constant companion. A ripe fruit has no alternative 
but to fall on the ground.” Therefore one must not swerve from the 
path of duty, nor indulge in injustice, nor shun Dharma, nor hesitate 

26 Rama had taken Lakshmana severely to task, when contrary to his instructioas, 
he left Sita unprotected in the hut and came to help him with the golden deer. 

28 Yet even one like Rama, being human, could not do justice to all, as in the case 
of Sita and Sambuka. The only lesson for us to learn is that it is better to do 
uajustice to one who is your own, rather than be unfair to others whom you have 
promised to protect. This characteristic of Rama, of keeping his word, whatever 
it may cost, recurs again and again. 



to bring happiness to all. To be such one has to stick to principles, 
which means sticking to truth. Even before Kaikeyi is able to 
pronounce the sentence of exile, Rama assures her, “Tell me frankly 
whatever the king has in mind, I give you my word that I shall obey 
his command. Rama is not in the habit of speaking with two tongues, 

This is the character of Shri Rama. Wife, son, kingdom, not even 
one’s life is to be considered when Dharma is at stake. Such a 
character, if not god himself, is very near god. And that is what is 
meant when he is referred to as Avatara. 

Yet he is human as well. His grief at the loss of Sita, his agony 
when he thinks that Lakshmana is lost in the battle, his mental 
suffering when he is told that his wife is the centre of public calumny, 
amply show that he is intensely human. The goldeh deer has been 
killed, Lakshmana has left his post and Sita has been abucted. Rama 
is mad with the pain and agony of sudden bereavement. He has said 
angry words to Lakshmana. He is like a mighty elephant run amuck, 
sinking in the mire of grief and Lakshmana consoles him. Lakshmana 
is a perfect foil to Rama’s character. Together Rama and Sita are the 
embodiment of conjugal love. Lakshmana provides the neutral 
background for this full-blooded love. Throughout the long poem 
Lakshmana is superbly unconscious or perhaps ignorant of the charms 
of women. He walks with lowered eyes, having never raised them to 
see the face of a beautiful woman. He has known his brother in 
blissful union with Sita. Now he is witness to his lament in her 
absence. In both cases he remains unaffected. To paint a character of 
such severity, Valmiki has had to cover with oblivion even his 
relationship with his wife Urmila. During the fourteen years of exile 
Lakshmana does not remember her once. Later poets have blamed 
Vlmiki for neglecting Urmila. They have written about her as ‘Kavyer 
Upekshita' one whom literature passes by. For Valmiki it was 
necessary to do so in order to highlight Rama’s all pervasive love for 
Sita. A severe Lakshmana was a necessary background for this love. 
Later, much later, the Marathi playwright Mama Warerkar did full 
justice to Urmila in his play Bhurnikanya Sita. In this he was following 
in the footsteps of Maithilisharan Gupta, the poet of Hindi renaissance, 
who had done a fine portraiture of Urmila in his famous poem Saket. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

Rama has often been blamed for having told a few lies, may be 
in jest. He can be absolved of at least one such lie. Wishing to get rid 
of Surpanakha, he tells her to go to Lakshmana, because he is 

The word 'Akritadar" has been interpreted by commentators in 
various ways. That he was not married, or being married he was 
unaccompanied by wife and so on. A better sense is obtained by 
construing the word to mean one whose marriage has not been 
consumated. The following words 'Apurvi bharyaya charthV having 
not known (a wife before), waiting for a bride, further confirm this 

His supreme sense of self-detachment and propriety, his ability to 
evaluate both sides of the problem, his perfect knowledge of the 
Dharma or duty of the moment, make Rama stand above all others in 
the story. Ravana has fallen, Vibhishana hesitates to perform the last 
rites for an elder brother who has been responsible for such universal 
cruelty and suffering. Rama says, “Do not lament his death, becuse he 
died fighting like a hero and a Kshatriya. In his own time he had 
earned a big name as a warrior. He had conquered Indra and the three 
worlds. No one is always victorious in a war. He who dies doing his 
duty is to be respected. Therefore give up grief and think of what is 
to be done next.” “All enmities end with death; our purpose is 
fulfilled. Perform his last rites. He is as much a brother to me as to 
you.”^ For one such who could fill the world in his heart, for one like 
Sri Rama we have nothing but respect. 

Bharata, Kaikeyi, Manthara, Hanuman, Vibhishana and other 
characters are there to give richness and depth to the story. They 
complete the poet’s study of Man; Valmiki has woven them into the 
fabric of his narrative with consummate skill and insight. Valmiki’s 
characterization of Ravana is superb, a character so complex in his 
admixture of strength and learning, naked hedonism and extreme self- 
denial, sensitiveness to beauty, fondness of riches and other good 

29 cIWTI ^^TPT 


30 Ramayana, VI-112, 16 



things of life, coupled with extreme crudity, cruelty and selfishness. 
He has to die because he has rejected Dharma, he has accepted wrong 
ideals. Impulsively or driven by Fate, he has laid his hand on Sita.^^ 
Foolishly he takes a mere fancy, a fleeting impulse to be his life’s 
purpose and stakes his honour on it. He refuses to discuss the subject 
or listen to well-meant advice. His is a clear case of misplaced 
judgement. Blinded by passion and desire, be becomes a despot. He 
flouts the advice of his brother, friends, well-wishers, even wife. Only 
once, when he loses his faithful brother Kumbhakama in battle, does 
he remember the advice given by Vibhishana and expresses regret for 
not having taken it. “The words of Vibhishana come back to me with 
greater force. I was a fool not to have listened to him. I am suffering 
the consequences of my actions for having treated my brother in such 
a cruel manner.’ 

Ravana is a symbol not so much of individual selfishness, as of 
the malaise of a whole system of governance. The kingdom of Lanka 
is based on arrogance and despotic rule. The wishes of the ruler are 
sovereign. Plunder and loot account for its wealth. Even uncles and 
cousins are not spared. Its army is meant for aggression and 
annexation of territory. In fact the wealth and splendour of Lanka that 
had dazzled Hanuman, do not accrue from the labour and effort of its 
people, hence nothing good could come of it. In contrast is the 
kingdom of Ayodhya. Though ruled by a king, it is no autocracy; the 
king is guided and controlled by his council and competent ministers 
who interpret the law for him and lay down policy. At every stage the 
king has to consult the Guru and the council of elders and the 
assembly of the people. Dasaratha consults the people before deciding 
that Rama is to be heir-apparent. On the advice of Vasishta, he sends 
Rama to the forest with Viswamitra, though the decision is extremely 
painful to him. In Ayodhya, the will of the people is supreme, so much 
so that Rama has to abandon Sita because the people will not have her. 

31 At one stage replying to one of his senior ministers Malyavan, he confesses his 
obstinate nature. “I may break into two, but I will not bend to anybody. This is 
my fault my nature which I cannot overcome.” 

- Ramayana, VI-36, 11 

32 Much of Lanka’s wealth came from plundering Kubera, a cousin of Ravana, and 
other relatives. The air-chariot Pushpaka was plundered from Kubera. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

Ravana’s cabinet, on the other hand, is a collection of sycophants and 
flatterers, presided over by an egoistic Hedonist. Anyone who dares to 
speak the truth, or points to Dharma and the rights of others is 
summarily dismissed. Vibhishana is compelled to desert him because 
he would not listen to his words. Ravana is the outcome of a totally 
materialistic society. His tragic end shows how the greatest may fall 
if they ignore Dharma and take a onesided view of life trampling upon 
the rights and ignoring the welfare of the common people. 

In complete contrast to Ravana is Sita. Ravana has everything 
which the world could give him. Sita has nothing except her steadfast 
character and her unerring devotion to Rama. Like Lkshmana, her life 
is completely interwoven with Rama. On leaving home after the 
marriage ceremony she was advised by her father, to be the 
Sahadharmacharini of Rama, i.e. his partner in Dharma, devoted to 
him, his constant companion, virtually his shadow. When the time 
comes for Rama to go to the forest, it is a sudden fall from heaven to 
earth, most unexpected. Sita accepts it, and without expressing any 
unhappiness at the changed situation, makes up her mind to accompany 
Rama. Rama points out her duty to the family, he asks her to stay 
behind and look after her mothers-in-law.^^ As a last attempt to 
dissuade her, he describes at length the dangers that would face them 
in the forest. But Sita is not afraid. Even as a young girl she was 
attracted towards forest life when she was told that some day she will 
have to go and live in a forest. In her eyes this was the fulfilment of 
the prophecy, which became all the more attractive now that she 
would go there with Rama. Still Rama does not agree. Then driven to 
the utmost, she uses harsh words, T wonder, whether my father, king 
of Mithila, did right in choosing you for a son-in-law. For you seem 
to be a woman dressed in the grab of man.^"^ What will people say, if 
you were a Sailusha (Jester)? I am your wife, one with you in mind 
and body. You shall not go to the forest without me.’ These spirited 

33 Here Rama is not very sure of the treatment his mothers would get at the hands 
of Kaikeyi and Bharata, So he advice Sita how she should behave and be 
responsible for the family in his absence. 

34 : ftcTT I 

^ vjiiHidK' I I 

- Ramayana, 11-30, 3 



words have the desired effect on Rama. He consoles her and agrees to 
take her with him. “If you have been created for a forest life along 
with me, then like my fame and good name, I would not be able to 
leave you behind.” 

Sita’s complete self-effacement is not restricted in respect of her 
husband alone. Imprisoned by Ravana, she thinks of the hard times of 
her mother-in-law Kausalya, alone in the capital without Rama. ‘I do 
not grieve so much for Rama and Lakshmana, as I do for my mother- 
in-law, who is passing anxious days ever thinking about the return of 
all of us from the forest.’ After the war is over, and Hanuman wishes 
to punish the Rakshasa-v^/om&n who had tortured her, she puts up a 
spirited defence for them saying, “They were but obeying the orders 
of their master. They should not be punished, because they merely did 
their duty.” 

Sita is a very brave, spirited and intelligent woman. Confronted 
with a demon like Ravana, she did not lose her presence of mind. All 
along the way to Lanka, she scatters her ornaments which help the 
Vanaras find her. Similarly she shows remarkable courage and 
fortitude when Lakshmana abandons her in the forest. T have done no 
wrong, what shall I tell people when they ask me why Rama has 
forsaken me? I would gladly end my life here in the waters of the 
Jahnavi, were it not for the fact that I carry Rama’s seed within me!’ 
This incident is in poetic contrast with her extremely poignant reaction 
when she heard Maricha’s fake call for help. In her blind concern for 
Rama she lost her self-confidence and hurled accusations against 
Lakshmana, fully knowing they were not true. Now confronted with 
the worst that Fate had in store for her—abandonment—she is a 
different Sita, calm and self-possessed, in full control of her senses. 
She sees no purpose in life, and would gladly put an end to herself. 
This punishment has come to her unjustly and her faith in human 
nature is shattered. Still she knows that this is not the time for her to 
die. She must fulfil her responsibilities as the queen of Ayodhya. She 
must keep Rama’s children alive. The present must be sacrified so that 
the future may live. 

A very salient feature of Sita’s character, not often noticed, is her 
knowledge of the futility of war. An interesting discussion follows 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

between her and Sri Rama at the time of leaving the Ashrama of 
Sutikshna. Handing over his weapon to him, she points out the evils 
of unprovoked aggression and the incongruity of his carrying arms 
when he is a peaceful forest-dweller. In reply Rama refers to his 
promises of giving protection to those who needed it even if it meant 
using warlike means. Rama is committed to the protection of good 
from evil. Dharma from Adharma. For this he would forsake family 
and friend, even Sita. This must surely prepare her for the fate which 
is to be her’s ultimately. 

Sita’s stay in the Asokavana, her spirited resistance of Ravana, 
her all consuming love for Rama and total devotion to him, make her 
a woman of all time. Modem women can derive many a lesson from 
her, when they are in difficulties or faced with temptation. Yet her 
crowning glory is her ever-present sense of propriety and supreme 
sense of self-respect. She would not brook false accusation an insult 
even from one who like Rama was her very life. When Rishi Valmiki 
vouchsafes her purity and Rama asks her to foreswear her chastity 
once again, she thinks that this is the last straw and now it is time to 
give up the body. She invokes mother earth to open-up and give her 
a place of eternal rest within her bosom. Thus in her death Sita has 
become immortal. Her name will be remembered as along as India 

As a story-teller, Valmiki is difficult to be matched. He has 
superb narrative powers. His capacity for detail, his keen observation 
of nature, his understanding of the part it plays in man’s emotional 
life, his knowledge of the powers of Fate, all go to make him one of 
the foremost poets of the world. His commitment to the moral law is 
absolute and total. Never does he falter with regard to Dharma. This 
is why his work has enjoyed increasing praise and popularity during 
the last few thousand years, a distinction so far achieved by no other 
work. Valmiki gives a wealth of information about the life and times 
of Sri Rama. Social life, family life, marriage, education, the art of 
war, life in hermitages, ethics and morality, religious and philosophical 
ideas, manners and customs, food an dress, aspects of statecraft, 
economic and political life, personal histories, life and habits of people 
of other races in the South, the wealth and abundance of natural 



products, movement of stars, the coming of the seasons, the geography 
and physical resources of his country and the world around, all this 
and much more has been skilfully included in the vast storehouse of 
his epic, each item being dealt with carefully and adequately and 
occupying its proper place in the story. A stupendous task to be 
undertaken by no less a master than Valmiki. 

At times the sweep of his imagination is grand, as if wishing to 
include the whole world and creation as well. On grand canvases he 
has painted scenes of unforgettable significance and beauty. The 
description of Hanuman in flight, crossing the ocean on his way to 
Lanka, or the physical panorama of the Indian peninsula as seen from 
the air would defy the powers of a lesser poet, “Then getting ready to 
cross the ocean, Hanuman expanded his body which grew like the 
swelling Sea at high-tide. Placing his foot on the Mahendra mountain, 
in order to leap forward, he crushes it so hard that all the trees growing 
on it shed their flowers and streams of water flowed out of it like rut 
trickling down the temples of a maddened elephant. As he flew 
upwards, vast forests of tall trees were uprooted and flung into the sky. 
In their upward motion they shed - all their flowers, and Hanuman’s 
body covered with them shone as if with a thousand stars. His 
extended limbs filled the sky and his long colourful tail fluttered as if 
were the banner of Indra. His reflection cast on the surface of the sea, 
appeared like a mighty ship caught in a storm!’ 

Similarly Valmiki’s treatment of war, his description of each 
battle, the coming together of opponents of equal strength, the 
repeated details of individual fight and manoeuvres surpass our 
imagination. The last battle between Rama and Ravana is so fierce 
that the seven seas are agitated with the noise of the falling weapons. 
The earth including the denizens of the nether regions (Patalaloka), 
the forest and mountains shook. The sun was blacked out and the wind 
blew with fierce force. Both the adversaries Rama and Ravana, were 
so equally matched that the gods, Rishis, Siddhas and gandharvas 
became anxious. Within their heart of hearts, they began praying for 
Rama’s victory. And then Valmiki too realizes that he is at the end of 
his descriptive powers and he utters that famous verse. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

^?TFR: 'HMkImH: I 

^FRTWq^f^: I I 

Rama shoots his deadly arrows at Ravana, cutting his heads, one 
at a time. But soon another head grows in its place. Rama is so 
engrossed in battle, he has forgotten his own warrior’s armoury. Then 
descends from heaven Matali, Indra’s Charioteer, to remind him of the 
Brahmastra. Rama uses it. The terrible weapon goes straight through 
Ravans’s heart and kills him and as he fell covered with blood, it 
seems another Vritrasura had fallen hit by Indra’s thunderbolt. 

In contrast to these great picture-scenes, some of the intimate 
descriptions of Valmiki are perfect cameos reflecting simultaneously 
the state of the mind and the state of things outside. The union of 
man’s emotions with outside nature, this mutual response, has given 
rise to word-pictures (figures of speech) known as utpreksha, upama, 
rupaka. Kaikeyi has gone into the mourning chamber (Kopabhavana), 
she is angry, she has discarded her ornaments which lie scattered on 
the dark-blue emerald of the floor. Dasaratha enters and the sight 
which meets his eye is described by the poet thus, ‘the various jewels 
and ornaments discarded by her lay on the floor like so many clusters 
of stars in the night sky.’ It was as if the sky had fallen on earth. 
Indeed it had, for Dasaratha Heaven had fallen. His world lay in 
shambles around him. 

Rama and Lakshmana both are away in pursuit of the golden 
deer. Sita is alone in the forest-hut. Ravana pounces upon her in the 
disguise of a mendicant. It is like night pouncing upon Sandhya (the 
godess of the Evening) when the sun and the moon are no longer 
there. The forest trees are witness to this crime; they are stunned into 
silence. The wind stopped blowing and the fast-flowing Godavari 

slowed down her pace. Sita has been confined inside the 

Asokavana, Ravana approaches her with evil intentions, she grows 
pale with fear and ‘shakes like a plantain-leaf facing a storm.’ In her 
misery she appears to Ravana ‘like a boat sinking in the sea, like a 
branch severed from its trunk, fallen on the ground.’ Her body uncared 
for and unanointed appeared like a mud-stained lotus-bud which does 
not please the mind and yet it pleases. She is like a shining flame, 
which has lost its power to bum, a lotus bud trampled upon by wild 



elephants. Her long and uncared for tresses are coiled in a single loop- 
veni. It lines the curve of her body like the slim line of forest-trees 
marking the curvature of the earth in autunm. Nature to Rama appears 
a friend and well-wisher in his long sojourn in the forest. The same 
has become a cause of discomfort now that Sita is no more with him. 
Spring has come to the forest. The cruel soft breezes of Chaitra are 
blowing. “The peacocks have spread out their wings and are dancing 
with their mates. Look Lakshmana ! how one of them with wings 
stretched is chasing his beloved behind the hills. Surely the Rakshasa 
has not stolen his mate !” Again nature mirrors Rama’s despondency, 
“ Lakshmana, when winter comes these self-same trees laden with 
flowers now, will bear no fruit for me. Their beautiful petals will fall 
to the ground with their swarms of bees!” 

Then there are descriptions of nature unmatched for their pure 
loveliness. It is winter. Rama and Sita are together. “Though covered 
with frost, the earth is still beautiful. The waters are too cold to bathe 
and one likes the company of fire. The nights are cold and long, one 
can no longer sleep in the open. Depending on the sun, for its Ught, 
the moon’s disc if covered with haze, like a mirror tarnished with 
breath, it does not shine. These water-birds, afraid to enter the cold 
water, now stay on edge and the wild elephant tormented by extreme 
thirst probes the icy waters with his trunk withdrawing it quickly. 
Bathed in falling flakes of ice at night and hidden thick frost at dawn, 
the trees seem to have gone to sleep!” 

Nature which appeared as a friend to Rama, evokes different 
response from Ravava. Once Ravana went to the river Narmada. 
Seeing the scence bathed in beauty, he exclaimed, “Look the sun with 
his rays has painted everything gold for me! Even at midday he (the 
sun ) does not shine brightly; he has made himself as gentle and 
agreeable as the moon. Fearing me, the wind blows gently. Even this 
Narmada, slim like a shy girl, stays in silence keeping in control her 
birds, fishes and water-animals. She is sweet to the touch.” Ravana 
strides towards the river to bathe, as towards a lovely and attractive 

Once again when he was at Kailasa, worshipping Siva, he saw 
nature in full bloom. The full moon rose and threw him into a frenzy 


Valraiki and Vyasa 

of passion. He seized upon the passing nymph Rambha and gratified 
his lust, ignoring her many protests that she was like a daughter-in-law 
to him being the betrothed of his nephew Nalakubara. 

Valmiki has infinite descriptive power. The resonance and the 
wealth of meaning of Sanskrit words help him to create passages of 
extreme beauty and depth of meaning in which sound and senses excel 
each other; 

“The beautiful row of fast flying cranes, happy for having eaten 
the unripe rice-shoots, rises into the sky like a well-strung garland of 
white flowers blown by the wind.”^^ 

These nature descriptions are not contrivances of fanciful 
appendages inserted merely for the sake of doing so, as some of the 
later authors have done. They are part and parcel of the fabric of the 
story, helping in its evolution and development. They are also a very 
true and useful device for character delineation. Nature which soothes 
and sympathises with man, has the opposite effect on the Vanara 
(monkeys). When Hanuman returns from Lanka. Bringing news of 
Sita and of his exploits there, the entire Vanara army is overjoyed. In 
their exuberance they enter Sugriva’s favourite garden, the ‘Madhuvan’ 
and destroy it completely with their revelries. What they did to that 
well-kept garden, how they struck down carefully nurtured trees, 
trampled upon the grass, ate ripening fruit and drank all the honey and 
how they treated Dadhimukha, the caretaker of the garden, may well 
be the description of today’s university campus after the students have 
gone on a rampage. 

Valmiki is conscious of the humorous and the bizarre. A fine 
example of this may be found in his Ramayana. When Kaikeyi praises 
Manthara as she visualizes her decked in all the finery she would give 
her for her help in ousting Rama and tells her, “You are a beautiful 
hunchback. There are ugly hunchbacks but you are not one of them. 
You are like a beautiful lotus-flower with its stalk bent by the wind. 

y^Rfdl 'HK'HdI'hMHd: | 

- Ramayana, IV-30, 48 



Your other limbs are very lovely and pleasing. Wait till I deck you 
with golden ornaments, I shall load your hunch, which is so full of 
bright tricks and ideas—^with precious jewels after rubbing it with 
golden oil well heated and scented. A number of beautifully dressed 
hunchbacks will - serve you, you who is to be the Queen of them all!” 

In his Ramayana Valmiki has left for us an inspired pageant of 
human life and destiny, clothed in actual and concrete events to which 
he was a witness. Later generations of poets paid due homage to him 
by recognizing him as the ‘Father Poet’, Adikavi. He was the first to 
be moved by human misery caused by the frustration of human 
emotion and desire. He recognized ^Kama’ (the creative urge) or sex 
as one of the greatest moving forces of Ufe, how it could cause the 
greatest destruction as well as bring great happiness and fulfillment. 
Valmiki felt the impact of beauty and pathos and utilized it for the 
edification of man. There is no such thing as art for art’s sake. All art 
and beauty is for the service of man to raise him higher, to elevate 
him, to help him live better. For Valmiki the stirrings of poetry began 
with his consciousness of an all-embracing Kanina (compassion) 
which had become the 'Sloka’- poetry.^ Later poets quarreled and 
quipped whether Rasa, the flavour of poetry was one or many,^^ 
whether the soul of poetry was style or Dhvani and so on. This 
quibbling continued for a long time until Bhavabhuti, bom in the 
beginning of the eighth century A.D., took Valmiki’s 
Uttararamacharitam\ In it he declared; 

‘In reality Rasa is one. Compassion (the capacity to identity one’s 
self with others). Owing to circumstances it appears in different forms. 
Like the whirlpool, drop or wave, all of which in the last analysis is 

36 ?fl^: 

37 c.f. The theory of the Nine Rasas. 

arm) cR^nmniii 

- Raghuvamsa, XIV-70 

- Uttararamacharitam, 111-27 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

In Bhavabhuti, Valmiki’s Karuna had come full circle only to be 
reborn in the works of all those men and women of India and abroad 
who have made the Ramayana the model for their artistic creations. 
The prophecy made in the beginning to Valmiki by Brahma has come 

“As long as in this firm—set land 

The streams shall flow, the mountains stand, 

So long throughout the world, be sure 
The great Ramayana shall endure.”^^ 

— Griffith’s translation 

efl^ 11 

- Ramayana, 1-2, 36, 37 


- R, Rangachari 

The fountain-head of Bharatiya Sanskriti (National culture) - and 
its eversustaining power is the Sage Vyasa (Krishna-Dvaipayana-Veda 
Vyasa). Special homage is paid to him every year on the full moon day 
of the month of Ashadha (July) - Vyasa-Poomima (Guru Poomima); 
Sanyasins invoke his blessings on that day, as the Founder of their 
Order and rededicate themselves to spiritual uplift and service to 
mankind. Study of the Scriptures - Vedas and Vedangas - is also then 
recommenced by qualified persons, after a prior recess. The universality 
of this Vyasa is testified to by the declaration that he is a manifestation 
of the all pervasive Lord Vishnu, and that he is the custodian of the 
treasure of Superior Wisdom - (Brahma-Jnana). His glory is enhanced 
by the fact of his being of the lineage of Vasishtha and the father of 
the incomparable sage - Suka.^ 

The term ‘Vaysa’ is just an appellation denoting classifier, 
coordinator, compiler, editor. This has reference to this sage having 
undertaken this task in regard to the prime scripture, the Vedas. 
Tradition holds that the Lord Himself performs this work, in every 
Yuga to suit the needs of the Age, Having regard to the limitations of 
humanity. Vyasa is the generic name given to the human form that the 
Lord chooses to take for this purpose from Age to Age. The 

Vyaasaaya Vishnuroopaaya Vyaasaroopaaya Vishnavay Namo Vai Brahma 

Nidhaye. Vaasisthaay Namo Namah. 

Vyaasam Vasishtaa Nattaaram Shakteh Poutaram Akalpan Paraasaraatmajam 

Vande Sukataatam Taponidhim. 


^ t ^ 11 

czim i 



Valmiki and Vyasa 

Yishnupurana ascribed to Sage Parasara (The father of the latest Veda 
Vyasa), and the Mahabharata, the great Epic (Itihasa) composed by 
Vyasa himself declare- “In this Epoch of Vaivasvatamanu — the 
offspring of the Sun—commencing about 2000 million years ago, the 
time of the incarnation of Vishnu as the White Boar (Sveta-Varaha) 
there have been 28 Vyasas— Brahma himself (P‘), Vasistha (8^*’), 
Shakti (25“’), Parasara (26*“), Jatukama (27*“) and Krishnadvaipayana 

According to tradition, supported by modem scholars with 
reference to the astronomical data available in the Mahabharata etc., 
the present Kaliyuga began about 5080 years ago and the advent of the 
latest Vyasa was about a century earlier. He was the natural father of 
Dhritarashtra and the Pandavas the combatants in the Great Bahabharata 
war. He was the step brother of the great Bhishma glorified as the 
grand-father of the dynasty- Pitamaha. He continued to live during the 
time of the grandson of the Pandavas Parikshit and also of his 
successor Janamejaya. Tradition holds that he is still living, engaged 
in 'tapas' near ‘Badri’ in the Himalayas! There is no doubt that his 
‘Spirit’ is still alive, to guide the seekers of ‘dharma’. Sri Adi-Sankara 
and Sri Madhwa— the great ‘Achayas’, it is said, had access to him. 
The Mahabharata is an “inside-story” told by our Vyasa; he himself 
appears in many episodes, giving counsel and guidance, on all critical 
occasions. Apart from being the author of the Mahabharata which 
included the encyclopedia of the national culture, the well-known 
Bhagwada-Gita and Vishnu Sahasranama and hailed as the fifth Veda, 
this Vyasa is held to be the author of the ‘Brahmasutras’ (exposition 
of the Upanishads— the Vedanta), under the name of Badarayana, and 
of all the 18 Puranas and their subsidiaries. We need not, in the 
narrowness of our vision, feel that a single person could not have been 
the author of so many works. 

Granted his long life and great powers, this would be nothing 
strange. Even today, there are authors who have written numerous 
works in different fields in a short life. But this is not to say that the 
original versions of all the works of Vyasa have remained intact 
through the ages. No doubt, time has left its furrows on the visage! 



Modem scholars hold that the Puranic literature passed thomgh 
four stages of development, from the early Vedic period to about 700 
AD, through the agency of Academies or Institutes named after Vyasa 

In the Mahabharata, we have many recountings of the life of this 
great Sage, glorified in the Bhagavad Gita as the archetype of a 
‘muni’, seer and thinker "'muneenaam-api-aham-vyaasah.” We can 
say that he is the archetype of the Universal Man, transcending all 
barriers with divine elements too, and therefore ‘immortal’. 

According to a Narrative in the Adi-parva : a celestial nymph 
‘Apsaras’ became a fish and started sporting in the waters of the river 
Yamuna in that form. It chanced that the dropping semen of the King 
of Chedi named Uparishravas was swallowed by it. After ten months, 
that fish was caught by some fisherman. When it was cut, a male chid 
as well as a female child came out. These were taken to the king, who 
adopted the male child, which in later years became a famous mler 
known as Matsya Raja and the female child was left with the fisher- 
chieftain to be brought up. This child had an unpleasant fishy-odour 
and was therefore known as Matsya-gandha. But the name given to 
her by the fisher-chieftain was Satyavati (The abode of Truth). She 
grew in beauty day by day and developed all maidenly qualities as 
well, including humility, modesty. She served her father well, assisting 
him in the daily ferry-service that took travellers across the river, to 
and fro. 

One day. Sage Parasara in the course of his travels came to this 
river-bank and beheld Satyavati, who was then a beauteous virgin, in 
her early teens. By his yogic powers, he divined her previous birth and 
future destiny too. She was formerly the ‘mind-bom child of the 
‘Manes’ known as ‘Barhisads’, and was, for an unconscious lapse, 
caused to be bom on earth, in the womb of the ‘fish-apsara’, as 
narrated above. It was even then foretold that she would become the 
mother of a famous son, through the Sage Parasara. This son was to 
be the benefactor of the world by classifying and co-ordinating the 

Parasara informed Satyavati of all this and sought union with her. 
He created a fog that enveloped an island in the middle of the river 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

and took her there. When she expressed qualms about losing her 
virginity, which would lead to social embarrassment, the sage assured 
her that she would become a virgin again, after the ad-hoc union with 
him. He also gave her a boon by which she lost her foul odour and 
gained a fragrance, spreading miles around ! She thus got the 
appellation— “Yojana-gandha”. After the union in an instant, she 
delivered a son, who attained the stature of a five-year old boy 
forthwith. He told the mother that he had a mission to fulfil and bade 
farewell to her, saying that whenever she required his services, he 
would come to her at the thought. 

As the son was born in an island, Dvipa, he was known as 
‘Dvaipayana’; as he was very dark in complexion, he got the 
appellation ‘Krishna’ which also meant charming, attractive. As we 
have already seen, after classifying the Vedas he became Veda-Vyasa, 
as he is generally known. 

In this narrative, we may discern great truths suggested, 
symbolically, as it were for example. 

Vyasa’s birth has links with a celestial lady, a fish, a great 
Brahmin sage and a fisher-woman with foul odour as well as a fog and 
an isle in the midst of a dark river (Yamuna) which is to be associated, 
later at another spot, with the sports of the Divine Krishna as a child. 
This is a personified concept of the inunortal spirit, at kin with the 
entire universe—all beings—and transcending all barriers of birth, 
colour, time, place, complexes prejudices and so forth. For this advent, 
the momentary receptacle of the ‘prime energy’—the mother—gains 
‘fragrance, to last for all time, justifying the name ‘ Satyavati’ the 
abode of Truth (Reality), and is hallowed, ‘virginity’ too is not lost. 

Vyasa’s father, Parasara, reputed to be a great astronomer is 
conscious of his being an agent in a Divine Mission. According to the 
Mundaka Upanishad his name may be taken as signifying one who is 
always aiming at the Superior Wisdom (Paraa-The Higher, Sara- 
arrow). He does not mind the malodorous effect of environment, 
recognizing only the fitness of the receptacle placed at his disposal by 
destiny, for the propagation of an integrated universal culture. 



Further, the idea, that the offspring was ‘born’ instantaneously 
and grew up at once to the stature of a boy of five years and was 
conscious of the ‘Spirit’ within him and that he could not be kept in 
the island of this appearance, also testifies to his universality and 

The story of the birth of the Lord Kumara or Subrahmanya by the 
conjunction of the Divine Spark and all the elements, multifaced and 
nursed by celestial ‘Stars’ and instantly getting imbued with colossal 
energy, terrifying the Devas and Asuras alike is an analogue here, 
pertaining to the ‘Integral Absolute’. The ‘Vamana’ Avtara of Lord 
Vishnu is also pointer in this context. 

In Greek mythology, Pallas Athene, the goddess of Wisdom, 
fighting against all evil, particularly, the monster of ignorance— is 
said to have sprung directly from the head of Zeus, the Supreme God, 
fully armed and letting out a roar that challenged heaven and earth. 
The common symbolism is apparent. 

Sri K. M. Munshi in his reconstruction of the story of Vyasa 
makes Parasara the victim of an attack by Kartaveerarjuna (the 
Haihaya Ruler) at his own hermitage on the bank of the River 
Yamuna, being discovered by fishermen and nursed back to health at 
their island abode by the maiden Satyavati, leading to subsequent 
union and the birth of the child Vyasa, in the normal course. The child 
is reared in the island along with other children; he is six years of age, 
his father paying him only annual visits till then. After this period, the 
child is taken by the father for initiation into Brahminhood ( Upanayana) 
and study of the Scriptures. This human portrayal does not in any way, 
make Vyasa an ordinary historical personage, commanding general 
credibility. The point is that this real seer represents the universal spirit 
which is beyond any limited time. In later years Vyasa set up 
Ashramas and classified and standardized the Vedas with the help of 
four disciples— Sumantu (Atharava-Veda), Jaimini (Sama-Veda), 
Paila (Rig-Veda) and Vaisampayana (Yajur-Veda). Later, Suka the son 
of Vyasa became heir to all the wisdom of the age. 

For long the Vedas were known as ‘Trayee’ (the Triad) ignoring 
the Atharva-Veda, propogated by the sage Angirasa (Atharvana) as it 
dealt with social matters including magical rites. But by the time of 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

Vyasa, the concept of the ‘Four Vedas’ had come into being. One 
modem interpretation of the term ‘Trayee’ occurring even later, is that 
the Vedas deal with the three ‘Gunas’ (Traigunyavishayaa-Vedaah) 
{Bhagavad Gita 11-45) and that they comprise three models of 
presentation—^Poetry, prose and music (Chant). 

We next hear of Vyasa as a hardly adult, appearing before his 
mother, who had by then become the empress at Hastinapura, got 
widowed and was deprived of her two royal sons, through untimely 
death, and furthermore, without issues to continue the dynasty. She 
had a step-son, Bhishma, bom to her husband. King Shantanu, before 
her marriage. 

Now in the interest of Satyavati, at the time of her marriage to his 
father, Bhishma had renounced all claims to the throne and sworn 
himself to life-long celibacy. He would not be persuaded to go back 
on his word for the sake of the continuance of the dynasty. So 
Satyavati thought of her first son, Vyasa, who could solve the impasse 
by union with the two wives of her younger sons according to the 
practice of Niyoga then in vogue. With the consent of Bhishma, Vyasa 
agreed to comply with the proposal, but on condition that the two 
women should reconcile themselves to the form in which he would 
appear before them at night. This was to ensure that no carnal desire 
should motivate the union, it should take place only in the interests of 
the State. He actually visited the women in a most repulsive form, 
matted red hair, dark and stinking body and blood-shot eyes. The first 
lady Ambika shut her eyes in dismay, with the result that the son bom 
to her in due course Dhritarashtra was blind, the other lady, Ambalika, 
turned pale with fear, leading to the birth of a son, Pandu, very pallid 
in hue. A maid servant who was in a proper frame of mind was then 
sent to the stage and she became the mother in due time of the wise 
and righteous Vidura. 

The three children were brought up by Bhishma and at the 
appropriate age, the eldest was installed as king, the next one being 
entmsted with the actual administration (Regent). The last one became 
a tmsted counsellor. 

The ordinary personality of Vyasa should have been charming, 
with eyes like a fully-blossomed lotus {Phullaaravinda-Ayata-Patra- 



Netrd) and there is consistent record to suggest that every one on all 
occasions adored him as a glorious sage. He could have by his yogic 
powers appeared to the two princesses in a ravishing form. He did not 
do so, because he wanted to purify them, through a hard ‘Vrata’ to 
which they proved unequal, setting in train the destined course of 
events. Later on, Vyasa, preserved the foetus prematurely dropped 
from the womb of Gandhari, the Queen of Dhritarashtra, and out of 
this issued a hundred sons, Kauravas, Duryodhana and the rest, and 
one daughter. As already stated this sage intervenes on all critical 
occasions, pertaining to the dynasty, out-living everyone. It will not be 
practicable to refer here to the detailed record of these as found in the 
Mahabharata. We may, however, deal with Vyasa’s own household 
life, in this context. The Mahabharata only states that Vyasa prayed to 
the Lord Sankara for a son, who would comprise in himself, all the 

This came to pass when Vyasa’s semen dropped into the fire 
kindled by him by striking five sticks. The child that was bom was 
called Suka (synonymous to Sukra meaning semen), which term also 
denoted a parrot—the mouth-piece of the father. The child grew up 
instantaneously and was initiated into the brahmacharya state, through 
‘upanayanam’, by the celestial mler, Indra. Thereafter, Suka remained 
a Brahmajnaani bent on Moksha (liberation), receiving instmction 
from Vyasa, as well as King Janaka of Mithila. He was specially 
instructed by Vyasa at a subsequent stage in the glorious 
Bhagavatapurana, which he expounded to King Parikshit. The genesis 
of this Purana will be referred to later. 

According to the Mahabharata, Suka eventually attained liberation, 
leaving his grieving father to be consoled by all nature that would 
respond to his call. 

We have, however, different versions in the Puranas. For 
instance, the Skandapurana states that Vyasa married Vatikaa, the 
daughter of the Rishi Jabali and that Suka was bom to them. 

Suka is also portrayed as a householder, with a wife, ‘Peevaree’ 
and four sons and daughter in the Harivamsa (a supplement to the 
Mahabharata and in the Devi-Bhagavatam. This story is corroborated, 
to some extent, by the Vayu, Padma, Matsya and Vishnupuranas, 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

Commentators of Srimad Bhagavatam, explain that though Suka 
renounced the world early in life, yet he left his ‘shadow’ to console 
his father Vyasa and that this shadow entered the life of a narrative in 
the Mahabharata, that Suka left all Nature to respond to Vyasa’s 
anguished call. 

What is significant is that Vyasa despite all his learning had 
human longings, attachment to progeny, which makes him only more 
relevant to us. 

Vyasa’s works are as follows : 


All Hindu philosophies are different expositions of the 
Brahrnasutras, which we owe to Vyasa. He meant to fix the due 
import of the Upanishads for all time, as there were different views, 
even in his own time. But strangely, the consequence has been never- 
ending controversies ! Surely, the fault is not of the sage. Perhaps, we 
may hold that the Universal thinker still feels the need of differing 
view point and ideals ! This may well, be the flowering of his reputed 
‘Visala-Buddhi’ all comprehending intellect. 


This is such an encyclopaedic work of our culture, that sage 
Parasara himself has exclaimed that none but the Lord himself could 
have composed it. Its giory is vouchsafed everywhere- “the bright 

lamp of wisdom” (Bharta-tai apoomaha prajvalito jnanmaya — 
pradeepah...)- the collyrium ‘brush that clears the vision of 
everyone’— {Jnanajanya-Saakena-unmeelita-drishah). 

There is internal evidence to indicate that in this work, first 
composed over a period of three years, by Vyasa, after the passing 
away of Sri Krishna and the Pandavas, and propagated by his disciple 
Vaisampayana, at the time of the ‘Serpent’— Sacrifice of Janamejaya, 
great-grandson of the Pandava hero Arjuna, there had been interpolations 
from time to time by Vyasa himself and others as well. 

As the great Bharata War was a great catastrophe for the nation 
and its culture, the surviving Vyasa should have deemed it necessary 



to preserve all the traditional lore, which might have already assumed 
a literary form. 

Modem researches about the correct text apart, looked at simply 
as a story, there is no parallel to the Mahabharata in the world, in the 
multitude of sharply-defined characters and the vast range of incidents, 
tragic and comic embracing all parts of the land and even beyond. Its 
canvas is, indeed, the family of the whole world! (Udara — 
Chittanam — tu — Vasudhaiva — Kutumbakam). Again, what a wealth 
of subsidiary stories is treasured in this epic! It is enough to remind 
ourselves of Savitri - Satyavan and Nala - Damayanti in this context. 

Let alone the stories of Sita-Rama and Sakuntala—^Dushyanta 
also contained in it. That Srimad Bhagvadgita and Vishnu-Sahasranama 
are but incidental parts of this epic, staggers the imagination. What 
about the worldly and spiritual counsels expounded directly in the 
Vidura Neeti, Santi and Anusasna Parvasl Need one go elsewhere 
even in modem times, for relevant guidance, in any sphere, in any 
situation, including politics? 

Shri Aurobindo has rightly said: “Vyasa’s supreme intellect rises 
everywhere out of the mass of insipid or turbulent redaction and 
interpolation with bare grandiose outlines. A wide searching mind, 
historian, statesman, orator, a deep and keen looker into ehics and 
conduct, a subtle and high-aiming politician, theologian and philosopher, 
it is not for nothing that Hindu imagination makes the name of Vyasa 
loom so large in the history of Aryan thought and attributes to him a 
work so important and manifold. The wideness of the man’s intellectual 
empire is evident throughout the work; we feel the presence of the great 
Rishi, the original thinker, who has enlarged the boundaries of ethical 
and religious outlook.” Aurobindo has also dwelt on the grand mind of 
Vyasa generally scorning poetical artifices, making a powerful impact 
by simple delineation of events and always emphasizing ‘Dharma’ 
ethical values, and faith in the Lord. This should not lead us to think that 
Vyasa is not a great poet. On the contrary, there are purple patches even 
in the subsidiary stories of Mahabharata. Sublime in poetry, like that of 
Valmiki. Infact, later-day poets have linked Valmiki and Vyasa as the 
two incomparable poets of the land. There is also the superb Bhagvatam 
which will be referred to separately. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

This a great epic may as well be called a grand mosaic of all 
cultures and beliefs : A few examples given below would suffice to 
elucidate this point. 

(i) First, we have a hymn addressed to Lord Indra and the 
Devas by Sage Uttanka. In this the Sage solicits their aid for the 
recovery of the jewel stolen by the Naga — Takshaka. This is in effect 
a prayer by a Vaidika Muni to Mahendra, held to be the lord of the 
three worlds, to overcome an Ahindra of the Naga race. The Nagas 
were a race inimical to the Vedic tradition and rituals and they 
sometimes sought even Indra’s help, against those who believed in 
Vedic sacrifices, and this enmity continued long, from generation to 
generation. The world has reaped rich dividends from these clashes — 
Srimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata - through the agency of 
Parikshit and Janamejaya. Out of evil, cometh good! 

In course of time, there was reconciliation through marriage with 
Naga princesses, leading to a blended culture. 

(ii) The worship of Indra, Vanina, and other celestial beings 
seems to have evolved in due course, into the worship of Upendra — 
Vishnu, Agni became the progenitor of Kumara and is said to abide in 
Siva (vide Sahadeva’s hynrn seeking the aid of Agni to overcome a 
ruler of Mahishmati, who had earlier obtained the guardianship of 
Agni). Vaisampayna says that the performance of ‘homas’ through 
Agni will confer blessings. Alien races took to this in due course. 

(iii) The tribals Kiratakas and Nishadas were first held in 
contempt by the Vedic Aryans and their Linga form of worship was 
not held to be proper. The Maheswara was considered to be different 
from the Ekadasa Rudras and not entitled to share in the offerings in 
sacrifices, Vishnu alone being held to be the Lord of sacrifices. The 
chief among the deriders of Maheswara was Daksha — Prajapati. 
When the former began to destroy the latter’s sacrifice, Daksha prayed 
to Maheswara for pardon. This hymn is recorded as Siva-Sahsranama. 

From that time onwards Maheswara-Siva became entitled, like 
Vishnu, to sacrificial offerings. The story indicates the gradual 
evolution of the Vedic Deities — Agni, Rudra, etc. into, Pramasiva, 
meriting universal homage. 



Krishna expouds another Siva-Sahasranama to Dharmaputra. In 
this hymn as well as in Daksh’s Paramasiva is identified with Vishnu, 
the universal cause, the Absolute Brahman, and the In-Dweller of all 
souls! Krishna is said to conunend Linga-Worship to Dharmaputra. It 
is also significant that Paramasiva appeared to Aijuna, only in the 
guise of a Kirataka. We learn also that Bhagadatta of Pragjyoti- 
shpuram (modem Assam region ) had for his allies, Kiratakas Chinese 
and Indra (of neighbouring Burma apparently.) 

(iv) There are also special hymns to the Sun (vide Dharmaputra’s 
prayer for getting the Akshaya-Patra). 108 names are said to have 
been expounded to the world through Narada. These include Brahma, 
Vishnu, Rudra, and Skanda. The Sun has always been worshipped that 
his Shakti is a part of Vishnu’s. 

(v) Subrahmanya is specially praised by Markandeya. There is 
an indication that his Shakti is a part of Vishnu’s. 

(vi) Durga or Kah is hynmed, before the Pandavas begin their 
incognito life and before the commencement of the Great War. 

(vii) The Mahabharata begins with the propitiation of Ganapati 
by Vyasa, for transcribing his verses. 

(viii) Taking a comprehensive view, we have here the 
Panchayatana mode of worship, which came into vogue later. But 
ostensibly, this epic was intended to glorify Sriman Narayana alone— 
vide (1) Bhishma’s hymn (a) at Dharmaputras’ Rajasuya yajna, (b) 
when expounding the Vishnu Sahasranama and (c) in the Shanti- 
parva, (Stava Raja); (2) Aijuna’s praise, after Viswa-Rupa darshana 
(Bhagvad-Gita); (3) Narada’s ‘Stuti’ in the Shanti-Parva; and (4) 
Paramasiva’s exposition to Asvatthama and to the sages, of the glory 
of Nara-Narayana (Drona-Parva) of Vishnu being the source of 
himself and his container as well (Anusasana-Parva). 

(ix) The Mahabharata also includes a full exposition of the 
Pancharatra mode of worship, including the Vyuha manifestations 
(Shanti-Parva), Historians consider that Krishna, his brother Balarama, 
his eldest son and grandson, became, in course of time, identified with 
the Vyuha forms, as in the idols (principal Deities) at the Parthasarathi 
Temple, Triplicane Thimvallikeni (Chennai). 


Valmiki and \^asa 

(x) Dhyana and "Pooja' of Sri Narayana are declared as the path 
to salvation, (Anusasana-Parva). There is an exposition of the Vedic, 
Agamic, Tantrik, Puranic and Smarta modes also. 

(xi) Pasupata faith is advocated by ‘Parama-siva’. Here and there 
are references to ‘Narabali’ offering of human beings as sacrifice to 
Siva (e.g. the story of Jarasandha). The greatest emphasis however is 
on Ahimsa. 

Surely we should recognize the unity in diversity in all these 
records. Some would say that many of these episodes are later 
interpolations. Some go even further and discard Krishna as a deity in 
the original version. It is enough for us to profit from all the expositions 
now available thus leading to national integration at all levels. 

At any rate, it is a remarkable tribute to the greatness and 
universality of Vyasa that all have vied with each other to find a niche 
for their beliefs in his epic. 

Like Vishwamitra in the Treta-Yuga this Vyasa was a universal 
friend in the Dwapara Yuga. It is his sneha for all beings pouring out 
of his Aravinda-Lochona (lotus-eyes) that is the oil that keeps the 
Mahabharata ever glowing. His was not the light to be kept hidden in 
a bushel — it is to blazon ever from the mountain-tops. 

But alas! the epic ends with a note of frustration that no one 
listens to the counsel of ‘Dharma’ and how valid is this today more 
than ever before. 


Once, Vyasa sat in a lonely place on the holy bank of the river 
Sarasvati and he pondered over the cause of his inner dissatisfaction, 
“Having taken the appropriate vows, I have duty honoured the Veda; 
my ‘gurus’ and the sacred fires, with all sincerity and obeyed their 
injunctions. While narrating the Mahabharata, I brought out the 
import of the Vedas, so that even women, Sudras and others may learn 
about ‘Dharma’ and the other ends of life. Yet, with all my knowledge 
and achievements, I do not seem to have realized the essential nature 
of the SELF. Could this be because I have not dealt at length with 
ways of devotion to the Lord, dear even to the supreme renouncers.” 



When he was in this mood of frustration, ‘Devarshi Narada came 
to him. Learning about Vyasa’s predicament, he said: “Oh, great Sage, 
you have not dwelt on the greatness of Vasudeva, as you have done on 
‘Dharma’ and the other ends of life. You should now recollect and 
recount with one-pointed attention the various sports and acts of the 
exalted Lord, Achyuta, to enable human beings to free themselves 
from bondage. Narada emphasized the role of devotion by recounting 
his own experiences in previous births and ended: ‘Observing by the 
grace of the Lord, the unbroken vow of celibacy, I now go about the 
three worlds and beyond them, my movements absolutely unimpeded. 
Playing on the ‘Veena’, bestowed on me by the Lord Himself I wander 
as I list, chanting the glory of Hari. As I sing aloud, the Lord quickly 
presents Himself in my heart, as if summonded. Do likewise’. 

After Narada had departed, Vyasa sat in a hermitage on the 
western bank of the Saraswati, purified his mind and heart, through 
meditation and devotion, and composed the Bhagavatam, the scripture 
par-excellence of the devotees of the Lord Vishnu. He then taught it 
to his son Suka, the great Jnani, whose heart was captivated by the 
chronic of the lord’d qualities. 

Suka later on narrated it to King Parikshit, the grandson of the 
Pandavas, while he was under a curse to die of snake-bite within seven 
days, thus securing the ruler’s liberation at the end. 

This work has charmed all persons down the ages and has given 
rise to innumerable works of devotion in all languages. It is extoUed 
as the special ‘Scripture’ by the Chaitanya School, as well as by the 
followers of Sri Madhavacharya. Even in regard to the incidents 
already narrated in the Mahabharata, re-capitulated in this Mahapurana, 
the version is more mellowed and refined. This is not the place to deal 
with this work in detail. Suffice it to say, that this work “holds out 
hopes even for the chronic sinner, if only he will open his heart to the 
gentle influence of love and the irresistible charm of the Balakrishna. 
And like the Gita, it gives us a way of practical spiritual training 
through the harmonious blending of the three paths of Action, 
Knowledge and Devotion, suited to the limitations of each aspirant. 
The clarion call given even at the outset is clear, ‘Come, all of you, 
who have taste and true feeling, and drink of the compact sweetness 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

that is the Bhagavatam, the fruit of the wishing-tree— Kalpataru. The 
Veda which has slipped down from the mouth of Suka (The Parrot) 
and is pure ambrosia!’ 

Incidentally, modem scholars want to assign a very late date to 
this Purana and even suggest that it is the work of a southern devotee 
who was perhaps named Vyasa. In any case name abides ever. 

The Puranas 

The Hindu religion in its manifold aspects, as believed in and 
practiced by the general populace, derives its perennial inspiration 
from the Puranas, as vivified by the great tradition of the Vedas, the 
Epics and the Sastras. Their myths and legends serve as the external 
sheath of mystical meanings. Their religious symbolism is an 
important subject, which is now coming to the fore opening for the 
modem mind the closed doors of religious thought and tradition. As 
already indicated, the Puranic compilation of Veda-Vyasa grew with 
the centuries, the sanctity of the original name being preserved and 
enhanced by attributing prophetic insight too, culminating in a 
separate Bhavishyapurana in due course. The Puranas are 18 in 
number including the Vishnu Purana, the Purana-Ratna, of Parasara, 
the father of Vyasa and Srimad Bhagavatam (item iii above). The 
subsidiaries “Upa-Puranas” —are also said to be 18 in number and 
some times much more. Vyasa must have at least compiled and edited 
some of the Puranas. These have found their way into languages other 
than Sanskrit, with adaptations and modifications, as in the case of the 
Mahabharata. It is also stated that the antiquity of the Puranas goes 
back to the Vedic times—the Atharva Veda in particular. An 
explanation is that the meta-physical tmths of the Vedic Mantras were 
first cast in the form of legends, already current in folklore. Puranic 
expounders and listeners are quite unconcerned with the date of 
compilation of the texts—^it is enough for them that they are 
statements of the Sanatana Dharma concerned with the One Reality, 
manifested in different Forms. The supremacy of one or the other of 
the Trinity-Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva—is declared in each Purana, 
with the clear injunction that there is ultimately no superior or inferior 
among them. 



South Indian rulers have made special endorsements for the regular 
exposition of the Puranas and the Mahabharata. In times of drought, 
the Virata Parra of the Mahabharata is even now recited. The words 
of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his ‘Discovery of India’ are appropriate 
in this context—” Indian mythology is richer, vaster, very beautiful 
and full of meaning. I have often wondered what manner of men and 
women they were, who gave shape to these bright dreams and lovely 
fancies and out of what gold mines of thought and imagination they 
dug them.” 

Apart from the general theme of Dharma, matters pertaining to 
wealth, love and sex, rules of conduct and miscellaneous matters, 
painting and other fine arts, architecture, selection of gems, astronomy, 
astrology, are dealt with in some Puranas. The Puranas contain also 
much historical material, which is now slowly being unravelled by 
scholars. Only a part of the vast literature of the Puranas is now 
available and steps are being taken, particularly by the Purana 
Department of the All-India Kashiraj Trust, to reconstruct them and 
interpret them fully. 

Vyasa’s personality and services have been extolled by several 
persons down the ages and a collection of these homages has been 
brought out by the All-India Kashiraj trust (1963). There is also a 
Vyasa shrine at the Ramnagar Palace. The great Vaishnavite Acharya, 
Sri Ramanuja, fulfilled the great desire of his predecessor, 
Yamunacharya (Alavandar), to preserve the names of Parasara and 
Vyasa, by associating them with worthy preceptors. The two sons of 
the greatest disciple of Sri Ramanuja, namely, Sivasanka Mishra 
Kooratthalvan, were named Parasara Bhatta and Vedavyasacharya. But 
their names have now become rare among the followers of Ramanuja 
in the south. The followers of Madhvacharya, however, still glorify the 
name of Vyasa, there are Mathas also with that appellation. The great 
poet, philosopher and saint, Vadiraja Yati (16^ & 17* centuries A.D.), 
a follower of Sri Madhva, has composed a hymn in praise of Vyasa 
(Vyasashataka-Stotra); in his other work Tirtha Prabandha he refers 
to Madhavata Matha of Vyasa, where Madhavacharya had installed an 
icon of Vyasa. There are sculptures of Vyasa in Kanchi, in the 
Varadaraja temple and the Vyasa Srantasraya. 


Valmiki and Vyasa 

The name Vyasa is even now common in the northern and 
western parts of India. 

Veda-Vyasa was a national integrator and a universal man too. 
Not only did he write voluminously about our culture, but also 
instituted the order of Sanyasins, dedicated to the general welfare, and 
the practice of pilgrimages to the holy places, Teerthas, spread out 
through the whole of our country. It is with justification that the 
ancients extolled him as the Creator, Brahma, without four faces, the 
Lord Preserver, Hari—with Just two arms, and Destroyer of all evil, 
Shambhu—Siva, without the fiery third eye ! He is the Rock of 
Ages—our safe refuge. 

Jaya is a name given to Vyasa’s work, Mahabharata. By 
glorifying this great Sage, this land may attain ‘Jaya’ (Success) in all 
fields of right endeavour. 

Jayati Parasarasoonuh 
Satyavateehridayanandano Vyasah 
Yasyasyakamalakoshe Vaangmayam- 
Amritam Pivati Lokah”. 

(Vayu and Bhavishya Puranas) 

“Vyasa is the son of Parasara, and the heart’s delight of Satyavati. 
In the cluster of words, nectarine, proceeding from his lotus-lips, the 
world quenches its thirst. May this luster glow ever more.” 


Valmiki and \^asa, as authors of the two great Epic poems, 
RAMAYANA and MAHABHARATA, have influenced 
cultural, artistic and religious life not only in India, but in 
several other parts of the world. Writing in the post-Vedic and 
Upanishadic period, they becme the precursors of classical 
Sanskrit literature.Their works enjoy great popularity and 
provide inspiration for artistic creations in literature, drama 
and music, even today; 

In the course of time, due to dieir hoary antiquity, their 
personalities have become shrouded in folklores and beliefs. 

The present volume, written by well-Imown scholars gives a 
highly readable account of the life and personality of these 
two sages. 




(Volumes already published) 

* Founders ofPhilosophy 

♦ Scientists;^. . 

* Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata ;f' 

Writers, Composers . 

* Philosophers and Religious Leaders - Part I > 

* Devotional Poets and Mystics - Part I * Seers and Phildsphers 

* Devotional Poets and Mystics - Pait II * Poets, Dramatists and Story-Tellers